Friday, January 26, 2007

Library Graduate Students in SL - Discussion on Conducting Research in SL

At our last meeting (Jan. 18) we met at the Info Island II – Science Center. This week the topic of discussion was on conducting research in Second Life. Because Linden Labs announced the previous week that they no longer require researchers to get permission to conduct research, one hurdle at least, has been removed.

Uskala from UNC was in the middle of his IRB (Institutional Review Board) process to get approval for the research he wants to conduct here. This is a first at his institution, and it appears he may have to go through a special review process to get approval. This is partly because getting consent from participants involves signing forms. How do you get avatars so sign a consent form, and how do you verify that they are not a minor?

He had recently attended a workshop on conducting research. The proposal must meet three criteria to be approved:

  1. Respect for persons (voluntariness and free will)
  2. Beneficence (harm vs. benefit)
  3. Justice. Are people’s needs being served

The IRB wants to see research that is helpful to society.

A document we referred to in our discussion was “Ethical decision-making and Internet research: Recommendations from the aoir ethics working committee” published by the Association of Internet Researchers in 2002. It has a case study addressing the problem of consent in an online environment. The first case study was about research conducted in a chat environment, problems of consent, and willingness of participants. This environment presents many of the same problems presented by SL.

While researchers are and have been working in online environments for a while, its relative newness and special problems might present an obstacle to getting approval from an IRB board.

No comments: